OXFORD GETS READY FOR BANKNORTH 250 by Mike Twist
Friday's Practice Means Different Things to Different Teams
Friday marked the first official day of on track activity for Sunday’s Banknorth 250 at the Oxford Plains Speedway (ME). Several area Pro Stock (Super Late Model) teams were in attendance and all had different agendas. Some teams shook down their cars, some drivers used the track time to learn the track and others just sat in the stands.
One driver at the track who is familiar with the big tracks of NASCAR was former NASCAR Cup team owner Joe Bessey. The Maine native cut his racing teeth at Oxford and the nearby Beech Ridge Motor Speedway before moving to the NASCAR Busch North Series and eventually down south to the NASCAR Busch Series as a driver.
For the past three seasons, Bessey has returned to the 250 with his own #6 Pro Stock.
“I always look forward to this race,” said Bessey. “The 250 is all about tradition and everybody gets fired up for this race. This is my first time out this year and we’re coming off our best finish in the race last year. I hate to brag about that because it was an eighth place finish, but we hope to follow it up
with an better run this year. I would like to win this race before I decide to hang it up (as a driver), which won’t be anytime soon. If it takes me five years then it takes me five years, but I’d really like to have this one. I would mean a lot to me.”
Nextel Cup driver Kurt Busch is one of the drivers entered for Sunday's race. (51 Photo)
Camping was already hard to find on Friday afternoon. (51 Photo)
Practice went beautiful for us, I sat up in the grandstands and watched,” said defending 250 winner Ben Rowe. “We’ll shake down the car on Saturday. We’re in no hurry.”
For a few of the teams that did take to the track, valuable lessons were learned
“We got banged up a little last week, so we wanted to get on the track and make sure that everything was running alright,” said Cassius Clark. “We found a leak in the transmission, so we need to get that fixed for tomorrow.”
The biggest race of the day may have actually been outside
Joe Bessey talks with his crew after Friday's practice sessions. (51 Photo)
the pit gates. Some area fans took advantage of the track’s free camping policy by parking their RVs at the track up to several weeks before the race. By Friday, the best camping areas of the track were filled up with motor homes and trailers. In fact, the grounds more resembled those of a NASCAR Superspeedway than a short track in Maine.
Bessey was happy with the performance of his car in practice.
“Practice went well,” said Bessey. “We got here early and shook it down yesterday. The drivability of the car is there and that’s the key for racing up here - especially in the heat races. If you can’t drive the car, you won’t last long because they’ll move you out of the way.”
A few drivers on Friday were watched closely by their fellow competitors.
“Jeff Taylor is fast and Cassius Clark looks good,” said Ben Rowe. “There were a bunch of guys that looked fast and you’ll see more come out on Saturday.”
Winning the 250 last season makes the weekend more enjoyable for the second generation driver.
Garry Johnson puts his head into his work.
“We’re going to have a good time this weekend,” said Rowe. “There’s no pressure on us and we’ll have fun.”
One of the biggest questions entering the weekend is whether a second racing groove will develop for Sunday’s race. The track was repaved before last season and drivers have not been completely happy yet with the outside racing line. However, Friday provided little clue as to whether the top of the track will be a place for good racing.
“They’ve got the Supermodifieds here tonight and that will put a lot of different rubber down on the track,” said Cassius Clark. “I went out to the outside groove to run around a little bit, but couldn’t tell much. I saw some guys up there and I don’t know what they were doing.”
Although many of the teams that will race in the 250 have not yet made it to the track, the competitors who were there on Friday formed a solid start to a strong entry list. PASS was represented by both Ben and Mike Rowe, Sam Sessions and Cassius Clark. ACT competitor Patrick Laperle was there with his Pro Stock and Brent Wiggins towed down from Canada as well. The track regulars included Scott Robbins, Alan Wilson and Bill Whoff, Jr. Nextel Cup drivers Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch will also both be ready to race as activities heat up later this weekend.
Saturday in another practice day for the race and all heat races will be held Sunday afternoon leading up to the evening start time for the event.
Cassius Clark works to correct a transmission leak found in practice. (51 Photo)